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Operation of Fixed-Wing Aircraft: 3 Concepts

Here are three important aspects of understanding the operation of fixed-wing aircraft: wing types and placement, landing gear, and primary flight controls. These topics are among those questioned on the Military Flight Aptitude Test.

Wing types and placement

Although you don’t need to worry about the aeronautical design and efficiencies of various wing shapes, you should at least be aware of the different wing shapes and placements, each of which has distinct advantages and disadvantages. (Check out the wing designs in the figure; you don’t need to worry about the specific pros and cons of each for the test.)

A variety of wing designs (swept, standard, delta, and tapered).
A variety of wing designs (swept, standard, delta, and tapered).

Landing gear

Landing gear is the fuselage attachment that allows the aircraft to absorb the impact upon a positive and sometimes abrupt contact with a landing area. Landing gear can be either fixed or retractable and designed to land on hard or rough surfaces, land, or water. Military aircraft that land on hard surfaces (except helicopters) usually employ retractable landing gear to reduce the negative effects of drag.

Primary flight controls

Different controls in the crewmember station effectively change the way the different airfoils on an aircraft react with the relative wind. The primary flight controls are the stick-and-rudder controls that change the movement of the rudder, ailerons, and elevators.

  • Pitch: Pitch is controlled by the elevators and changes as a result of pulling the stick, or yoke, fore and aft. If you pull back the yoke or stick, the aft edges of the elevators move up (each in the same direction), forcing the tail of the aircraft down and the nose up and creating pitching, or a rotation around the lateral axis.

  • Roll: Roll is controlled by the wing ailerons (small movable sections of the wings, located at the trailing edges, that control roll movements) and changes as a result of pushing the stick, or rotating the yoke, left or right.

    The ailerons move opposite from one another to gain a rolling motion along the longitudinal axis (as we note earlier, like a paddle in the water). If you turn the stick or yoke left, the aileron on the left wing has its trailing edge pointed upward, pushing the left wing down, and the right wing has its aileron pointed downward, pushing the right wing up. This action results in a left rolling motion.

  • Yaw: Pushing your feet against the rudder pedals establishes a yaw motion. If you push the left rudder pedal left, the aft (rear) section of the rudder moves left (forcing the tail right and nose of the aircraft left) and turns the aircraft left around the vertical axis.

To perform a turn or any flight maneuver, you must apply a series of interrelated coordinated applications of these flight controls in what’s called a coordinated turn.

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